Station 21: New York meets Nantucket
ONE THING IS CERTAIN. Marco Coelho never let a cool restaurant idea slip away.Ten years after he transformed LoLa 41 into Nantucket’s hottest hot spot, and since reopening Lola Burger as an uber-luxe hamburger stand, he is into his second year with his newest venture, Station 21 on South Water Street.
by: Terry Pommett
photography by: Terry Pommett
The indefatigable Brazilian native knows how to fill seats in the competitive Nantucket restaurant market. He is not, however, trying to break any records with his accomplishments. He moves from project to project because, for him, they just make sense and need to be done.
How could you improve on Lola Burger on the Broad Street “Strip,” his offshoot from Lola 41? Easy. Move it out of town by the Milestone Rotary and expand the menu. Provide valet parking to satisfy the demand and suddenly parking is no longer a problem. Thus, “dining in” replaces long lines for take-out, though there is still a brisk business for burgers and shakes heading out the door. Business couldn’t be better.
Opening Pazzo was a winner with ambience, entertainment, a lively bar and food adored by followers of chef Robert “Boz” Boslow. It comforted the distressed diners reminiscing on the loss of their beloved Sfoglia in the same location. With Pazzo he opened up a new world of Mediterranean fare with a glimmer of olive oil, pasta and tomato dishes infused with exotic spices from North Africa and the Middle East. And when the difficulties of the mid-island location started to exact their toll and squeezed the bottom line, the decision was made to leave and seize another opportunity in the heart of downtown.
Coelho saw that the building which housed Corazon del Mar, Seth and Angela Raynor’s popular Latin-
kitchen concept restaurant, was on the market. In the fall of 2014 he contacted owners John and Colleen Arno, who ran Vincent’s, Nantucket’s first Italian restaurant there for years, and with his investors made a deal to buy the building.
A reinvention of the space took root over that winter, with walls torn down, the brick exposed, half-ceilings removed and a loft space opened up, creating a multi-story, sophisticated yet energetic dining space. By the middle of the summer season last year, Station 21 was open.
It gathered steam quickly and in its second season is approaching star status for its food, cocktails and social appeal. The location’s previous restaurants, all offering great food, whether it was Italian family home-cooking, upscale gourmet or trendy Latin, never really capitalized on the location and client potential. The one thing Station 21 has in common with Vincent’s, Water Street and Corazon is an attempt to define itself as unique. In that regard, Coelho has pulled out all the stops.
The history of the building is fascinating. It was likely moved from Jetties Beach to its present location, 21 South Water St., in the late 19th century. It was designated Humane Society Station 80, headquarters of the life-saving organization charged with saving victims of shipwrecks and other water-related accidents and placing life-saving equipment, lifeboats and shelters on the coast and islands of Massachusetts. Station 80 was used to lay out bodies of the victims of the “Gale of ’79.” It likely had double doors in front to allow horse-drawn boat wagons and beach carts to be hauled in and out. It was sold to members of the Pease family in 1933 and again in 1936. It passed to Vincent Arno in 1960 and then again in 1971 to John and Colleen Arno. In 1984, the structure was enlarged to add a second-floor dining room.
In short, the building has undergone numerous configurations, renovations and uses over time. Coelho’s addition to this history is significant, however, in that its interior was completely gutted and retro-designed,
Mission Figs Cambozola with Marcona Almonds
and Orange Gremolata
leaving no trace of its former incarnations.
Coelho is proud of the fact that from start to finish, the process of renovating to opening the doors to the public took 117 days.
“Many of those days, especially the last two weeks, I spent working and sleeping here. It’s how I came up with the name and the idea for the design. I was staring out the window, after opening up the second story and tearing out the ceiling and floor. I looked across the street to the police station and wanted to replicate the view in the half-round window. I was sitting in a station looking out at a station. So it became another station to me, Station 21,” he said.
Coelho envisioned linking the first and second floors, keeping customers in touch, shying away from having two separate and unequal spaces. He cut away the second story above the entryway, added a chandelier and tore down all the walls, replacing them with brick.
“It flows, it works. This is my finest achievement, my best painting so to speak. It’s a one-man show but I had the best crew, a masterpiece team with Audrey Sterk (designer), Robert Boslow (chef ), Matt MacEachern (designer) and Scott Anderson (general contractor),” he said.
Opening up the front of the building, placing a couple of tables in the window, was a slight change yielding huge results. Even with only eight to 10 people in the
bar dining area, the place looks busy and inviting.
Coelho described his long Nantucket restaurant journey in terms of getting an education. Gophering in Cap’n Tobey’s in 1988, and busing and managing at The Galley from 1999 to 2005 were akin to one’s high school and college years. Moving on to co-owner and eventual owner at Lola in 2006 could be considered his college graduation.
“I can say that Pazzo was my grad-school education and now Station 21 is my post-grad doctorate,” he said with a satisfied smile. “I had been a glorified maître d’ for many years, but now I want to be a complete owner, someone who knows what to do and makes the right decisions,” he said.
When it comes to the food in all of Coelho’s restaurants, the key ingredient is Boslow, whom Coelho refers to as “Boz the Boss.” He oversees the kitchen at Lola 41 as well as Station 21. Unassuming , yet confident and determined, he is not your typical executive chef. On any given day or night, he’ll be prepping sauces, rolling pasta or sweating behind the line, mostly at Lola. “I plug holes. That place needs a lot of attention,” he said.
Boslow is quick to praise the work force at Station 21.
“Opening in the middle of the summer was difficult, but everyone from management down has been great,” he said.
His chef du cuisine, Eric Lawhon, has been with him since the opening of Pazzo, and has taken the reins and responsibility for Station 21. This summer should see the pizza oven fired up to feed the take-out window and a lunch menu is being considered.
“We’re not trying to be Pazzo or Lola here, although Middle Eastern flavors keep popping up. There are French and Italian influences but not defined as such. Spit-roasting and American comfort food are part of the menu. It’s got a touch of everything. I don’t want to be locked into definitions. I love to experiment, read a lot, visit other restaurants,” Boslow said.
Perhaps Coelho’s greatest skill is having a good read on social trends. Station 21 is fun, lively and inviting. Having a simplified menu that is innovative and delicious, and an inventive martini and cocktail menu designed by skilled bartender Mark Daley, seems to be what a large number of youthful diners want. Yes, this is a youthful destination, and the noise level can sometimes reach less-than-desired levels. But Coelho will entertain none of those complaints. He rolls his eyes and lights into a grin.
“When I go out, I want to have fun. If I want a quiet dinner, I’ll eat at home,” he said.
Terry Pommett is a freelance writer and photographer who splits his time between Nantucket and the Philippines.